Sunday, February 8, 2015

DISABILITIES IN GENRE FICTION


LTUE 2015


These are my notes from the "Disabilities in Genre Fiction" panel I'm moderating at LTUE 2015.

Saturday February 14, 2015 at 10:00 AM 

Disabilities in Genre Fiction Panelists: Mercedes Murdock Yardly, Fiona Wilhelm Ostler, J. Scott Savage, Sarah Chorn, and Paul Genesse (moderator).

Over 50 millions Americans live with a physical or psychological disability, about 1 in 10 being severe.

Panel description: People with disabilities are a vastly underrepresented portion of the speculative fiction readers, writers, and industry workers. Disabilities are prevalent in society and belong in the books we read and write. This panel will focus on talking about disabilities in the books we read and write. How do you write them well? What are some mistakes people make with writing disabilities? How can we talk about this sensitive topic in a way that does justice to everyone involved? Is it important to talk about disabilities when we talk about diversity? Publishing is changing, how are those changes impacting the disabled both in the books we write, in the discussions we have, and in the way books are received by fans?

Sarah Chorn suggested this panel to me and wrote the above text. Here's her bio, and her essays on this topic are extremely popular on SFF Signal and you’ll find some links below.

Sarah is a prolific reader and avid reviewer. She’s been working as a reviewer in the genre for four years, running reviews out of the website Bookworm Blues. She also runs the popular column called Special Needs in Strange Worlds on two time Hugo winning SF Signal. The purpose of her column is to start a discussion and shine a light on the importance of disabilities in the genre. Sarah also worked as a publicity assistant with Ragnarok Publications and can often be found all over the internet writing guest columns, or yammering on about books.

***One of our panelists was qualifying to be an Olympic swimmer and was a shoulder injury away from making the Olympic team. (Who? Sarah Chorn!)

The Special Needs in Strange Worlds column was inspired by a book: The Wild Hunt by Elsbeth Cooper. (Go read the original post). All her characters are broken somehow. It’s a short post, but this was the genesis of Sarah’s column.

Sarah’s goal is to make people read, write, talk about disabilities. How are people going to fit into the community if we don’t talk about it?

Fiona Ostler suggested these questions, which we will I’m sure address as well.
1) Why do you write or want to write about people with disabilities?  2) What are some things that we need to be careful with, and what are some stereotypes to avoid?  3) Where do you go for help or research to be authentic?  4) Why do people shy away from writing about people with disabilities and what do you think would help them be more confident?

From J Scott Savage: One of the things that I've heard from lots of kids with disabilities who have read my books is that they appreciate the fact that Marcus has disabilities but they did not define him. It isn't a story about a boy in a wheelchair. It's a story about a boy. That boy happens to be in a wheelchair. It's a key part of the story but it doesn't define the story or the character. (Read Farworld, Book 1, Waterkeep)

Below are some links to a few of Sarah’s posts that she emailed to me. I pulled several quotes from them and put them in the notes below the links.

I Am Not Broken: The Language of Disability - the most popular thing I’ve ever written in the history of ever writing things.

http://www.bookwormblues.net/2014/09/10/i-am-not-broken-the-language-of-disability/

A Discussion of Disability in Lock In - second place to the one above 

http://www.bookwormblues.net/2014/10/30/a-discussion-of-disability-in-lock-in/

And I just posted the top 10 posts of 2014 for my Special Needs in Strange Worlds column. You can check ‘em out here: 

http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2014/12/special-needs-in-strange-worlds-a-look-back-at-2014/

I also did an interview with my disabled brother last year, which kind of really kicked this whole thing off. 

http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2013/11/special-needs-in-strange-worlds-a-conversation-with-my-brother/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Sfsignal+%28SFSignal%29&utm_content=FaceBook


Okay, I pulled the text from Sarah’s blog posts, as I thought they capture what I think we should be talking about on the panel. Sarah confirmed this covers the core of our upcoming discussion.


Special Needs in Strange Worlds: A Conversation With My Brother

SARAH: For you (her brother Rob), it seems like being isolated is part of your disability. Seeing isolated characters in novels is important to you because you relate to them.

ROB: Asperger’s is an entirely social issue. It’s how I deal with the outside world. Most of us with Asperger’s are home a lot because the outside world is a problem. We’re self-isolated, but it is the only way. Those isolated characters in books, like Fitz from Assassin’s Apprentice [by Robin Hobb], whose family doesn’t want anything to do with him, suffer because the whole world turns their back on them. It is important to see characters that are like that.

This is an important subject to talk about because you can’t live my life or understand how I see the world. You read about these problems and these characters, and learn more tolerance, understanding, and sympathy through reading. We need more of that.

SARAH: Do you think people in the genre talk about disabilities enough? Do you think discussion about disabilities is important?

ROB: I don’t think they talk about disabilities enough, and it is a very important thing to talk about. It is an important because it is real. You can witness the life of a person with that problem. If the character is well written and the disability is an in-depth part of that world, it is very good for people to witness, and for people like me to read. It needs to be there more. There aren’t a whole lot of people writing these characters. They are hard to write.

SARAH: Do you think authors are intimidated to write disabilities?

ROB: Yeah, they are. Not everything is easy. If you don’t have any problems, it is hard to put yourself in that place. You have to put yourself in an uncomfortable place to make the disabilities real in your book. Like The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, how do you write about leprosy if you don’t have leprosy? How do make it real? It’s hard to write those characters well, if you don’t have that problem, so people avoid doing it.

SARAH: What do you think that discussions about disability in the genre could accomplish?

ROB: I hope these discussions shows authors that it is important to include disabilities in their worlds. I hope that this interview, and your articles, show others that there are people like me that they can build on, or use as an influence from character building. That’s important. It’s not just for me to read about, though that’s important. Reading and talking openly about disabilities helps people understand what it is like to have a disability, which helps them understand and respect people like me

A Discussion of Disability in Lock In by John Scalzi

October 30, 2014

Language is powerful, and I’ve addressed that topic before so I feel no need to tread on that ground again. The point is, language can supercharge situations and bring out strong and justified feelings on both sides of whatever line. The word “cure” in the disabled community and the many reactions to it is just one example of the power of language and its potential to divide and upset/please and bring together. And Scalzi addresses that in various forms throughout the novel.

“Making people change because you can’t deal with who they are isn’t how it’s supposed to be done. What needs to be done is for people to pull their heads out of their asses. You say ‘cure.’ I hear ‘you’re not human enough.’”
– Lock In, John Scalzi

Scalzi addresses the fact that just about every walk of life has suffered from the disease, and everyone will be impacted in one way or another. Much like cancer, this is one of those diseases that the whole family seems deal with.


Special Needs in Strange Worlds: An Interview with Mercedes M. Yardley

MMY: I love how you brought up how people with special needs can completely alter lives. It’s true. This isn’t how I imagined my life would be, really. I don’t think any child studies the clouds and plans to have a child with special needs. But I do think my life is much richer and fuller because of Niko. He does force me to take stock of what is important, and not too many people really get that privilege.

(The above link is a great interview with so much truth. Read it.)


Corinne Duyvis on Minding your Metaphors

As for the importance to keep things like this in the genre, I think Corinne Duyvis says it best in this week’s Special needs in Strange Worlds:

SFF features countless heart-wrenching scenes featuring protagonists who decide to “mercy kill” a loved one who underwent a terrible ordeal. It’s meant as a poignant, tragic show of compassion and mercy. The characters will give reasons like: “They can’t even talk.” “They’re drooling.” “They’re not the same person they used to be.” “They wouldn’t have wanted this.” “They can’t even look after themselves.” “It’s unnatural keeping them alive like this.”

What does that imply about the millions of disabled people who fit those descriptions?

Similar problems arise with other parallels. Characters may be disrespected, treated as burdens, or wallow in their own misery in ways that echo problematic portrayals of disabled people. For all the interesting questions tackled in SFF, I wish I saw more questions of informed consent. Or questions of treatment, of assistive tools, of accommodations, of community. Characters rarely adapt to their situation and move on with their life to the best of their ability.

While I don’t think disability metaphors are sufficient disability representation, I do think that they’ll come up naturally in many texts, and that they’re relevant to the discussion of disability in SFF. For authors, it’s important to be true to their plot, their world, and their characters … but it’s also important to consider how their narrative may resonate with and impact disabled readers.


I Am Not Broken: The Language of Disability (Sept 10, 2014)

I was at work yesterday talking to a coworker about my upcoming surgery when I mentioned, laughing, “I’m broken,” with a shrug. My coworker laughed, and I laughed and she moved on and I stayed right there, rooted to the floor, thinking about the words that had just slipped into my dialogue. I meant them as a joke, and that’s how they were received, but in that moment while I was watching her walk away, I realized just how profoundly I had degraded my own situation.

Perhaps I am feeling particularly touchy about this topic because earlier this week I had the absolutely horrible experience of watching an elderly woman reduce a teenager with Down syndrome to tears by calling him a “retard” in a public, crowded store (don’t worry, I yelled at her). Days later, I’m still moved to tears thinking about that teenager, who was telling jokes and laughing, absolutely shattered by one woman’s thoughtless remarks.

These words, these horrible, degrading words, slip into our dialogues at the worst possible times, and often we don’t even notice them. I’m not broken. I’m not bent. I’m not incapable. I might not work the same way everyone else does, but that doesn’t mean I’m unable to accomplish those things others can accomplish.

We are not broken; we’re just a different kind of normal. We are not incapable or unable; we just get things done a little differently.

The world we live in isn’t defined by two versions of reality. There isn’t the “normal” reality for all the normal people, and the slightly skewed reality for all of the rest of us who yearn for normalcy. Our fiction should reflect that. King George VI wasn’t any less of a powerful speaker or ruler for all of his stuttering. Odetta Holmes wasn’t slowed down by her wheelchair.

I’m not broken and neither are you.

There is real power in the words we use, and the way we convey ideas. Speculative fiction is a genre of the imagination. It’s progressive and plays with ideas and themes that aren’t always commonplace in our world yet. We like to think of ourselves as cutting edge, ahead of the times. We are unafraid to ask “What if?” and then find out just what would be if that “what if” was a reality. We take incredible ideas and make them bite size. We get thoughts brewing, and progress rolling. We dare to look at the world we live in differently. Isn’t it wonderful? There is so much to love about this genre. So very much.


We need to talk about how ableist thinking doesn’t reflect the world we live in. We need less of it in the books we read and the media we are tuned to. We need to look at our history, at the popular mindset, and dare it to change. Isn’t that what speculative fiction is all about?


This is a link to an article about “Ableism”

Ableism is so pervasive in the language we don’t know it’s there.

(Stop ableism 2015 is a thing on Twitter)


Random note: SARAH’S story about her brother being in the WC. He’s as whole as he’s ever been in the WC.

I Am Not Broken: The Language of Disability
By Sarah Chorn

(I’m planning on having Sarah read this next passage as the finale of our discussion on the panel. I think it’s truly powerful stuff).

Reading helps us become more empathic, more tuned in to those around us. I want my daughter to love literature, regardless of what genre(s) she ends up enjoying, but I want her to learn from it. Ableism is history. We deserve the books we read to reflect this. We owe it to ourselves, to our society, and to our progeny. We owe it to this progressive, fantastic genre. The way we think and talk about disabilities needs to change. Period.

We are not broken. We are not bent. We are powerful, capable, beautiful people. We are important. We are normal. Our normal might be a little different than yours, but it is still normal. We’re no better or worse, more capable or incapable than anyone else. Just different, and shouldn’t we celebrate that?

We belong in your books, and in your discussions about diversity. We deserve language that uplifts and equals rather than divides and demeans.

Words are such small things that are so incredibly powerful.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Q&A with Author Lawrence C. Connolly about his Veins Cycle Novels

 
Gentleman, musician, husband, father, and friend to many, Bram Stoker Award nominated, Lawrence C. Connolly is the acclaimed author of the Veins Cycle. I’ve loved his incredible short fiction for years and recently binge read all three of his novels, Veins (2008), Vipers (2010), and Vortex (2014), in one awesome weekend.

Author Lawrence C. Connolly

The books are hard to classify, but I’ll call them modern fantasy set in the environs of a rural Pennsylvania coal mining town. Imagine the graphic novel/movie/TV Show, Constantine, crossed with the movie/novel, No Country For Old Men.


Yes, there are gangsters, angels, petty criminals, an Indian wise woman, a young man searching for path in life, and hit men—but most importantly in this case, a hit woman. There is a heist gone wrong, and supernatural factions that have been manipulating people for years as they advance their separate agendas to destroy the world. Are evil angels causing all this? Or are they not angels at all, but rather Native American spirits of the Okwe tribal mythology trying to protect the land? It all depends on which character’s point of view you’re in.



When I finished reading the books, I wanted to know more about this unique body of work. Mr. Connolly graciously accepted my request to ask him a few questions. There are some minor spoilers below, but you know you want to keep reading.

Question: How do you describe the way your three novels, Veins, Vipers, and Vortex fit together?

Lawrence C. Connolly: The Veins Cycle is not a trilogy, nor is it a series in the traditional sense. As the title states, it is a cycle, and as such the books can be read in any order.

True, the overarching chronology of the 24-hour period that frames the story begins in Veins, continues in Vipers, and concludes in Vortex. But the events are not always sequential. No character lives exclusively in the moment. Like us, they experience the world through a prism of memory, experience, and anticipation--a coexistence of past, present, and future.

A reader beginning the series with Vortex will encounter a different set of mysteries than the one who begins with Veins or Vipers. Nevertheless, in the end, the adventure will be the same. Different on ramps, same path.

Question: The Veins Cycle is filled with Native American myths, and Biblical references, including demons and angels. Will you please explain some of your sources and inspirations for the novels. Revelations welcome, good sir.

Lawrence C. Connolly: The Veins Cycle is about perceptions and the ways people view phenomena through filters of personal experience. One of the questions running through the story is: How much of what we see is a projection of each character’s psychological baggage? The character Axle, for example, attempts to understand his encounters through a prism of the Okwe stories passed down to him from his great-grandmother. Likewise, Sam views the mysteries through the veil of her mother’s religious fanaticism and her own sexual repression. These were things I was keen in exploring in the three books.

Question: I still haven’t quite figured out the true nature of the two opposing “angel” sides in the Veins Cycle, especially in book three, Vortex. Axle’s side tended toward being more “good”, but they were still quite gray. Both sides appear not to care much for the humans. Will you please elaborate, spoilers very welcome, on the two sides and explain their motivations?



Lawrence C. Connolly: The notions of “good” and “evil” are perceptions that the humans bring to the conflict, with each character convinced that he or she is working for the good of mankind and the world. Fittingly, the Cycle’s spiritual entities play on these notions as each side strives to achieve dominance.

You’re correct that the creatures do not seem to care much for the humans. To them, the humans are pawns, and we get the sense as the story moves along that the creatures are enjoying the game, finding clever ways of manipulating the humans to achieve some mysterious, cosmic end.

But to return to your question about which side has the moral high ground. I think we have to acknowledge that Axle, though flawed, is the nobler character. Although he starts the cycle by taking part in a heist, he does not like hurting people. Sam is quite the opposite. She causes harm, inflects pain, brings death. Nevertheless, her motivations often seem justified, an impression that is enhanced when one of the entities appears to her as a radiant angel.

Do you sense what I was going for here? Playing on expectations and preconceptions? I was trying to keep the reader grounded at the character level. There is no omniscient narrator in the Veins Cycle, no all-knowing voice to say, “This is how it is” or “I want to let you in on this.” The books are about the limits of human perceptions and the things we see when confronted with unknowable forces. That’s what fascinated me at the outset, and it’s was I endeavored to explore over the course of the three-book cycle.

Question: There are so many great characters in the Veins Cycle, but Sam, the female sniper, truly an Angel of Death, had to be my favorite. Will you tell us about how you crafted her, and was she your favorite as well?

Sam Calder in Veins by Star E. Olson
Lawrence C. Connolly: My goal with Sam was to create a character who is at once likeable and reprehensible. We should not care for her. She’s flawed in terrible ways, does terrible things, works consciously at putting walls between herself and other people. And yet we feel drawn to her. It’s a dynamic that I think echoes the duality at play in the book’s spiritual forces.

She’s fascinating, but she isn’t my favorite character. I suppose I could repeat that oft heard comment that my character are my children, and like any good parent I have no favorites. I could say that, but it wouldn’t be true. Some parents, in spite of themselves, have favorites.

My favorite Veins Cycle character is probably Maynard Frieburg, a.k.a. Bird – the rich kid on the hill who toys with the idea of leaving his mansion and finding enlightenment in the wilderness. He’s smart, funny, self-serving, and probably the most affable character in the book. If you met him on the street, he’d wave and invite you to have a drink (as opposed to Sam, who would probably turn and go the other way).   
Maynard "Bird" Frieburg in Vortex by Rhonda Libbey





Question: When you started writing the Veins Cycle, did you know from the beginning how it was going to end?

Lawrence C. Connolly: Yes. I knew the story needed to begin and end on the misty asphalt of Windslow Road, with the conclusion cycling back on the beginning like Ouroboros swallowing its own tail. The trick of course was dramatizing all the things that needed to happen in between. It took six years, and now it’s finished. Time to turn the page . . . and begin again.

Conclusion: Thank, Mr. Connolly, for your time and words. It’s been an honor and your last answer gave me chills. 

Thank you all for reading this post and if you haven’t already, please put the Veins Cycle on your reading list.



Lawrence C. Connolly’s books include the novels Veins (2008) and Vipers (2010), which together form the first two books of the Veins Cycle. Vortex, the third book in the series, was released in November 2014. His collections, which include Visions (2009), This Way to Egress (2010), and Voices (2011), collect all of his stories from Amazing Stories, Cemetery Dance, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Twilight Zone, and Year’s Best Horror. Voices was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award, Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection. He serves twice a year as one of the residency writers at Seton Hill University’s graduate program in Writing Popular Fiction. 

Visit Lawrence C. Connolly's website

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN CROSSED WITH CONSTANTINE

Review of Veins and the Vein Cycle by Lawrence C. Connolly

 I read Veins by Lawrence C. Connolly and loved it. I read the whole novel on my Kindle in one sitting starting on a Saturday morning, then immediately read the second book, Vipers, finishing it late that night. I read the third book, Vortex all day Sunday and finished reading it in the late afternoon. I’m fairly addicted to Facebook and I barely even checked it all weekend.

Veins, and the subsequent books pulled me in hard. Binge reading the entire Veins Cycle from beginning to end is highly recommended. Since the books are short novels, you actually feel like you have time to read them, and can make significant progress in one evening.

I’ve wanted to read these books for a long time, as I’m a big fan of the author’s short fiction, but the third and final novel, Vortex released in November 2014. Now I’m glad I waited. I was able to consume them all at once, with no break—except for a few hours of sleep when I dreamed about avenging angels, and a burning coal mine pit that if left unchecked could ignite the world in a Biblical apocalypse.

Veins, Vipers and Vortex are great books, and though hard to classify, I’ll call them modern fantasy set in the environs of a rural Pennsylvania coal mining town. Imagine the movie/graphic novel, Constantine, crossed with the movie/novel No Country For Old Men.

Yes, there are gangsters, angels, petty criminals, an Indian wise woman, a young man searching for path in life, and hit men—but most importantly in this case, a hit woman. There is a heist gone wrong, and supernatural factions that have been manipulating people for years as they advance their separate agendas to destroy the world. Are evil angels causing all this? Or are they not angels at all, but rather Native American spirits of the Okwe tribal mythology trying to protect the land? It all depends on which character’s point of view you’re in.

Who are the good guys? I don’t truly know. Who are the bad guys? Not sure. I certainly hated some of the characters, and enjoyed reading of their deaths, but nothing was black and white. The author wrote this next statement about the Veins Cycle and I love it: “The books are about the limits of human perceptions and the things we see when confronted with unknowable forces. That’s what fascinated me at the outset, and it’s was I endeavored to explore over the course of the three-book cycle.”

The books are deep, but are also so filled with awesome action and compelling characters. I think I read them so fast I didn’t ponder the big questions enough. That might be a reason to read these slowly, so you can savor the expert prose and the concepts. I still keep thinking about the whole Veins cycle in this order: end, middle, beginning. Veins kicks off the cycle, and Vipers takes it to new heights, then Vortex explodes onto the page and proves the journey was utterly worth it.

The books just get better and better. In the end, it was the writing—the brilliant characterization and original plot—that made Veins, and the subsequent novels work so well for me.

Axle, from The Veins Cycle
I wanted to see what happened to Axle, Sam, and Bird. I have images of them burned into my imagination, and the original illustrations of the characters in Veins added to the “wow” factor for sure, making Veins even more cinematic in my mind’s eye.

Days later, I keep thinking about the story and the characters, where they began, and how their storylines came to an end. After writing this post, I want to read the books again. --Paul Genesse

Open The Veins Cycle on Amazon.com 

READ AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR HERE

Thursday, January 22, 2015

CONTEST TO WIN THE IRON DRAGON SERIES

To celebrate the release of The Golden Cord cinematic book trailer there is a contest to win the Iron Dragon Series. Follow the rafflecopter.com link below to enter! http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/847059c247/

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Golden Cord Book Trailer World Premiere Party




You are all invited to the world premiere of The Golden Cord cinematic book trailer party, which will be on Monday, January 19 from 7-8 PM Mountain Standard Time, on Facebook. The final cut is ready!

I’d love for all of you to be virtually at the event. The plan is to: interact with the cast and crew, watch the live-action book trailer, learn behind the scenes details, and comment on posts for chances to win prizes.


Friday, November 28, 2014

Interview of Paladin's Pawn author Michael D. Young



Michael, thanks for doing this interview. First question: Your new book, Paladin Pawn has a lot of chess references, which I love. Were you a good chess player in middle school or did you get crushed most of the time?

Haha, I was all right. Not exactly grand-master material, but I did play often with my brothers and friends. I often won or at least got my opponent to a stalemate. We even had this intense version called “Nightmare Chess” where you each had a hand of cards that gave your pieces special powers.

What gave you the idea for Paladin's Pawn? How long has this book been playing out on the board in your mind?

Some of the ideas from the book have been playing around in my head since about Junior High, but I didn’t actually try to put any of them down until I was in college. It’s a good thing too, because I’m a much better writer now than I was then. It comes from growing up loving stories about knights and acting them out with my siblings.

How much does the main character in Paladin's Pawn resemble yourself? What is the most similar thing to you in the character, and what is the least similar thing?

Paladin's Pawn Author Michael D. Young
Very much like the main character, Rich, I got picked on a lot when I was in Junior High. I was studious, had thick glasses and liked thick fantasy novels. Unlike Rich, I’m not good with putting together with my hands, especially the little models he works on. I’d probably have wasted a bunch of money on those things, because I’d have been breaking them all the time.

If you were a chess piece, which one would you be, and which chess piece do you most like to kill whenever you're playing?

I’ve always liked the straight-forwardness of the Rook, and its ability to “castle”. I think though I’m more like a “bishop”, kind of the spiritual/intellectual kind of guy. And I just played a bishop last summer in Les Miserables, so I’m definitely going to have to go with bishop. I like to take out knights when I’m playing, because they can be difficult to watch for at times, because of their erratic movements and ability to jump over other pieces.

When you were writing this book was there a moment when you finished some part and yelled "Checkmate!" If not, how did you feel when you finished the first draft?

Oh, I should have done that! Maybe when I’m done with the next book in the series. In many ways, I felt like finally finishing something I’d been mulling over in my mind since I was the age of my protagonist, so, yes, it felt pretty great. To quote a famous fictional knight, I had “reached the unreachable stars”.

Optional question: No big spoilers, but what was your favorite scene to write in Paladin's Pawn?

There’s a scene where Rich is introducing his guide from the Middle Ages to the wonders of chocolate milk. Medieval mind blown. 


Synopsis of the Middle Grade Fantasy (Trifecta Books), Paladin's Pawn by Michael D. Young
When nerdy Rich Witz unwittingly becomes a Paladin, a white knight, in training, he is thrust into a world where flunking a test can change the course of history and a mysterious bully is playing for keeps with his life.

Rich’s grandmother leaves him with one thing before disappearing for good: a white chess pawn with his initials engraved on it. The pawn marks him as the next in an ancient line of white knights. He must prove himself in a life or death contest against his Nemesis, a dark knight in training, all while dealing with math homework and English projects.  With the ghost of an ancestor for his guide, he has seven days to complete four tasks of valor before his Nemesis does, or join his guide in the realm of the dead.

 As Rich rushes to complete the tasks, he realizes the chilling truth: his Nemesis is masquerading as someone at school and will stop at nothing to make him fail. As the tasks grow ever harder, the other knights reveal to him that his failure will break a centuries-old chain and bring the Paladin order to ruin. If he fails, the dark knights win the right to control the fate of the world, a world without hope or the possibility of a new dawn.  So this is one exam Rich has to ace, with no curve and no extra credit.


Author Bio:
Michael is a graduate of Brigham Young University and Western Governor’s University with degrees in German Teaching, Music, and Instructional Design. He puts his German to good use teaching online German courses for High School students. Though he grew up traveling the world with his military father, he now lives in Utah with his wife, Jen, and his two sons. Michael enjoys acting in community theater, playing and writing music and spending time with his family. He played for several years with the handbell choir Bells on Temple Square and is now a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
 He is the author of the novels The Canticle Kingdom Series, The Last Archangel Series, and the Chess Quest Series.  His also authors several web serials through BigWorldNetwork.com. He publishes anthologies for charity in his Advent Anthologies series. He has also had work featured in various online and print magazines such as Bards and Sages Quarterly, Mindflights, Meridian, The New Era, Allegory, and Ensign.

Follow Michael . . .


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Review of Giselle by Ballet West

Opening night, November 7, 2014


Evil ghost ballerinas surround Giselle’s two suitors and force the men to dance until they die. The scenes with the ghosts in Act II is a big reason this ballet is still being performed 173 years after its premier. The ghosts of the young maidens who were betrayed in love and died before their wedding day take the stage wearing bridal veils. The ghosts, called Wilis in the German folklore, haunted the Capitol Theater with eerie beauty that took my breath away.
Photo by Kelli Bramble

Did you know that the phrase “it gives me the willies” was made popular because of Giselle? The “Willies” (Wilis) are the spirits of young women who have died from love gone wrong, haunting forests for all eternity.

The queen of the Wilis, played by the prima ballerina, Christiana Bennett on opening night, was fierce and evil as she exacted revenge. She perfectly portrayed her character, the first woman ever who was jilted and betrayed, and has spent thousands of years taking revenge. Christiana Bennett danced masterfully and brought serious gravitas to the stage.

All the ground fog, the ominous set dressing, and the sinister music worked so perfectly with the exceptional dancing and choreography. The dancers floated across the stage with the mist swirling around them and I loved it.

Act II, The Forest, begins when Giselle’s suitor from her village, Hilarion played by Rex Tilton, arrives at her grave. Hilarion is quickly surrounded by the Wilis and they make him dance until he dies. Rex Tilton had what I believe is his best performance ever. I wished the choreography would have showed his actual death, but this ballet dates from 1841 when it debuted in Paris to rave reviews. Giselle is still incredibly relevant and has been adapted for a modern audience, though it  feels like a classic from another age.

Act I, Harvest Time (in a village in the German Rhineland) starts out a bit slow, with Giselle’s suitor in her village, Hilarion vying for her heart. Giselle, played beautifully by Arolyn Williams, has fallen in love with a handsome stranger, Prince Albrecht played by principal artist Christopher Ruud, who has been visiting Giselle for the past two weeks in disguise as a commoner.

She has fallen deeply in love with him all the while not knowing he is a Prince. Arolyn Williams did such an amazing job portraying the character. Her dancing, especially her solo work blew me away. In one sequence in Act I she stands on her toes—on one foot!—and crosses the entire stage. I’ve never seen anything like it.

You’ll have to watch the ballet to learn how Giselle dies at the end of Act I, but it’s shocking and dramatic. The build-up to the climactic end of Act I is quite long, and I did find the waltz sections when the villagers were celebrating the harvest somewhat tedious, but the dancing during those scenes was excellent. Over fifty dancers were part of this production, and Ballet West has to give everyone in the company some time on stage to showcase their skills, which they did wonderfully. All of the scenes with the villagers in Act I were beautiful, but my favorite parts involved Beckanne Sisk and Sayaka Ohtaki, who danced solos and showed their brilliance.

The love triangle aspect with spurned and angry Hilarion fighting with Prince Albrecht in Act I over Giselle was extremely interesting, but it was all about the second act for me. Seeing the Wilis, especially their queen and her two hench-women (Emily Adams and Alison DeBona on opening night) was the highlight.

The final scenes with the ghost of Giselle and Prince Albrecht were awesome. I used my opera glasses to see Arolyn’s expression at the very end when she disappeared inside her grave. She perfectly captured the tragedy and redemption of Giselle, a classic ballet, now made into a modern masterpiece by Ballet West.

My wife and I are strongly considering going again to see rising star, Beckanne Sisk take on the lead role of Giselle with Chirstopher Ruud again playing Albrecht. We both love Christopher’s dancing, and he’s a master of his craft. We want to see him and Beckanne dance together.

Giselle runs from November 7-16, 2014 at Capitol Theater. To read a summary of the entire ballet or learn more, please visit Ballet West’s website.